Bilbao, Spain, is a picturesque city and a paradise for art lovers as it is full of art, architecture, and design. This capital of Vizcaya province is also home to golden beaches and the Basque Mountains situated on an estuary leading to the Atlantic Ocean. This town also boasts of its vibrant culture. There is never a dull moment as you join the locals with their music and dance festivals, quirky food fairs, colorful religious processions, and other festivities. And who can forget Basque country’s famous version of tapas which is Pintxos? Your cravings will surely be satisfied with all the culinary offerings this industrial port city of Northern Spain offers. Read on to know more about the Bilbao in Spain and why it should be your next holiday destination!
History of Bilbao
An industrial port city in northern Spain is Bilbao, España. It is the capital of Vizcaya province and is recognized as the largest Basque city. The history of Bilbao starts in the 1300s, wherein this chartered town served as a place of settlement of seafaring people on Nervión-Ibaizabal estuary. The river’s eastern bank had large quantities of iron ores which the inhabitants exported during those times. They also made different iron works out of these rocks that became famous all over Europe. This led Don Diego López de Haro, Lord of Biscay, to grant the city an independent municipality.
In 1511, the city was allowed to issue ordinance laws. Then eventually, it became an economic center and Vizcaya’s capital in the 16th century. Sadly, the city was attacked during the early 1800s but survived and came out strong, which led to the city’s industrialization after 1874. The city’s rapid industrialization was through the export of iron ore, as well as the development of iron, steel, and shipbuilding industries. This opened doors of opportunities and attracted workers from other parts of Spain.
In the 1960s and 1970s, steel and shipbuilding industries declined, but tourism and services have grown. The government opened many museums and started several city development projects that further made Bilbao prosper. There was a bit of an industrial decline in the last decades of the 20th century. However, Bilbao never gave up and invested all efforts toward tourism, culture, and regeneration. Today, the transformation of Bilbao led to the city becoming an international reference for its modern design, prestigious structures, and one of Spain’s most interesting cities.
The average weather in Bilbao, Spain, is partly cloudy, with no significant temperature fluctuations or extremes. Winters are mild and rainy, while summers are pleasantly warm and ideal for sunbathing on the neighboring sandy beaches. In Bilbao, Spain, weather is typically cooler and more humid than other travel destinations in the south and the rest of the country.
The Bilbao weather during spring is generally warm and brings many days of sunshine. However, there may still be some heavy showers and overcast, cloudy days at times. The average temperatures range from 14°C (57°F) in February up to 16°C (61°F) in March.
The best weather for Bilbao, Spain, is summer delivering clear, blue skies and strong rays of sunlight. The hottest months are July and August. The average temperatures are from 22°C (72°F) and can sometimes reach up to 35°C (95°F). Weather can also be humid and can sometimes bring refreshing southerly winds.
Autumn, from September through November, is warm. These are the most popular times to visit Bilbao. The average temperature in Bilbao, Spain during Autumn is approximately 20°C (68°F). Although this season is warm, rain showers are still common but are quick to clear.
Compared to other regions, the typical weather forecast during winter is milder. The coldest months are December and January, with a temperature at 12°C (54°F). There are rare instances of ground frost. Also, snowy weather may last for only one to two days with occasional snow flurries.
While in this region you may want to: Visit Spain's National Parks, discover some of Spain's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and visit some Spanish Wine Regions.
Activities In Bilbao, Spain
What used to be a simple industrial port city is now home to world-famous modern landmarks and infrastructure. But it is not only known for being a hub of colorful architecture; it is home to the famous Bilbao Fine Arts Museum and the popular Athletic Club Bilbao. Part of the lovely Bilbao sights is the lush, green Casilda Iturrizar Park and surrounding areas making the region ideal for hiking and renting bikes. There are plenty of things to do in Bilbao, Spain, and here are our recommendations:
Stroll Along Plaza Nueva
This giant, bustling square in the heart of Casco Viejo is home to many restaurants, gift shops, markets, and more. It is also the primary location of concerts and festivals. It is the main square of the old town Bilbao, Spain, built in 1821 but was only inaugurated in 1851. The complex construction is inspired by Neoclassical style and has arcaded buildings lined up. This urban landmark is a Bilbao must-see because it represents an integral part of Bilbao’s history. Immerse into a sparkling Bilbao nightlife while trying out pintxos, sangria, and other local favorites. Moreover, get a chance to score coins and stamps, minerals and fossils, and other arts and crafts from the Sunday street market. Book tickets for the Old Quarter Walking Guided Tour here. Alternately, book The Premier Bilbao Food & Wine Walking Tour here.
Admire the Architecture of Zubizuri
The Zubizuri Bridge, also known as the Calatrava bridge, is a Bilbao sightseeing hot spot and iconic symbol. It is situated over the Nervión River in the middle of Bilbao’s Parque Etxabarria and City Hall, as well as the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The 75-meter long soaring bridge in Bilbao has a curved glass-brick walkway and features a tilted steel architecture adding to the graceful beauty of the city. It also has elegant lighting in the bridge deck, which attracts more attention at night. Get your Bilbao Historical Area Walking Tour tickets here.
Visit The Teatro Arriaga
Witness an outstanding performance at the Teatro Arriaga. An opera house in Bilbao, Teatro Arriaga presents a neo-baroque architectural style that results in its classic aesthetic appeal. Every facade and interior furnishings are inspired by the Paris Opera Theatre. Although the theater has faced several setbacks like the Civil war, fire, and flood, it has remained functioning with several repairs. It can accommodate up to 1,500 guests and hosts different stage performances such as concerts, ballets, zarzuelas, operas, and more. The people behind the opera works to offer every local and tourist an exceptional experience, so be sure to include this theater in your “Bilbao, Spain things to do” list. For a complete listing of events and tickets, visit their website.
Museums In Bilbao, Spain
There’s no doubt that there are a lot of museums in Bilbao, Spain. Each of them represents the history and culture of the city. You are thinking of what to do in Bilbao, Spain? Complete your northern Spain Bilbao vacation by exploring at least one of these museums.
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain
The internationally renowned Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, takes pride in its extraordinary exhibitions and unconventional architecture. Guggenheim Bilbao Museum Private Tour includes learning about why the building’s structure has a wildly curving metal facade and resembles a metal ship designed by world-class artists. Because of its fascinating construction, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain, is one of the most iconic buildings throughout the Basque Country. There are 19 galleries of contemporary art inside the museum showcasing the works of both local and foreign artists. Art pieces are also displayed outside the museum. Book your Guggenheim Museum Private Guided Visit.
Museo Bellas Artes
This museum in Bilbao, Spain, offers one of the finest galleries in the country. It houses more than 10,000 artworks featuring an all-inclusive collection of Basque, Spanish, and European art. The gallery displays art made back from the middle age up to the very present day. If you’re an art lover, you’ll feel at home in this traditional Bilbao, Spain museum. Get your Museum of Fine Arts Private Guided Tour tickets here.
San Mamés Museum
The museum Bilbao, Spain, to visit if you’re into sports is the San Mamés Museum. Here, you’ll get to know the unique philosophy and history of football through a vast collection of related images and objects. Perhaps, one of the best features of the museum is the playroom. No matter what your age is, you can play virtual football. Give it your best shot as you try to score against the world’s best goalkeeper, Iribar. Get your San Mamés Museum Entrance Ticket now.
Monuments To See In Bilbao, Spain
The major transformation of the gritty industrial port of Bilbao, Spain, paved the way for the city to become a sanctuary of innovative architecture and modern designs. When you go on a Bilbao holiday, you’ll be impressed with the wide variety of the city’s architectural landmarks. Taking a glimpse of this town’s iconic monuments is one of the ideal things to do in Bilbao.
One of the oldest and tallest buildings in the Bilbao Provincia is the Catedral de Santiago or Bilbao Cathedral. Strangely, the cathedral may not be visible from the narrow streets, but it surely is a skyscraper above Casco Viejo. It stretches 210 feet (64 meters) tall and has pointed spires above. The building also features a Gothic Revival facade with a cloister garden dating from the 16th century. There were also some porticos added to support its structure and the rest of the nave. On the inside, you’ll be amazed at the 72-foot (22-meter) height of the central nave. The ambulatory has a French feature that acts as a corridor. This church is also home to the oldest vocal and instrumental ensemble in Biscay. Construction began in the 14th century but was only consecrated as a cathedral in 1955.
The Azkuna Zentroa
An iconic building in the Provincia de Bilbao bringing a perfect fusion of the old and new architectural styles is the Azkuna Zentroa. This 141,076 ft² (43,000-meter) structure is a former old wine warehouse. It has been transformed into a modern masterpiece holding conferences, concerts, exhibits, and other kinds of events. The contemporary culture and leisure center has 43 columns, each made with distinct design features. It also has an enormous image of a floating sun located in the central part of the courtyard. There are cafes, restaurants, and a reading area onsite. You can also find a 6,562 ft² (2,000-meter) terrace that welcomes guests for sunbathing opportunities or other types of activities. Plus, one of the building’s main attractions is its avant-garde swimming pool with a transparent floor.
Casa Montero is a historic-artistic monument in Bilbao constructed in the early 1900s. Although it was not designed by the famous Catalan architect, the building is hailed to be “Casa de Gaudí” because of its similarity to the architect’s works. The monument was made in an art nouveau architecture style that is usually found in Barcelona. Compared to other buildings in the Bilbao old town, this is the only one that uses the said architectural style.
Festivals In Bilbao, Spain
The spirit of having a vibrant culture is very much alive in Bilbao. This is pretty apparent as the industrial Bilbao port Spain regularly organizes events, celebrations, and other festivities. The calendar is loaded the entire year with various engaging cultural activities. So, do not forget to join a Bilbao festival Spain affair on your next travel to this part of the Basque region.
Semana Grande or Aste Nagusia in the Basque language mainly focuses on celebrating the rich Basque culture. It is also called “The Big Week” because the festivities and activities usually last for nine days. This event features a series of plays, significant concerts, bullfights, fireworks displays, and more. The entire time, you will see the symbol of this festivity: the Marijaia, a doll with her arms up. Then, it became a tradition for the locals to burn the doll in the Nervión estuary on the last day of the festival. Schedule your visit to the Bilbao Ciudad by the end of August to this event.
Bilbao BBK Live
Music devotees should not miss Bilbao BBK Live. It is Spain’s most prominent pop and rock music festival drawing over 100,000 fans every year. This anticipated event of the year usually takes place each summer on the first week of July. If you want to sing your hearts out with your favorite music artists, book your Bilbao travel during this time. Both local and international acts and bands have already been a part of the concert’s lineup. Some of the American bands who became a part of this festivity were Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Incubus.
Santa Águeda’s Eve
The Santa Agueda celebration is a tradition to the people of Spain in Bilbao and the Basque Country. This festival serves as a tribute to Santa Agueda, a young saint from Catania who was a martyr of the 3rd century. During the eve of the actual event, people of all ages sing out a song and hit the ground with canes and sticks dedicated to the honored martyr. They usually break down into groups, sing door to door, and collect donations for different social causes. It is also believed that these actions were done to awaken spring after the winter solstice.
Santo Tomás Market Fair
An exciting gastronomic fair is the Santo Tomás market. This celebration of Bilbao’s culinary scene transpires in several Basque Country municipalities. Relish all the flavors of the rural Basque life at this event. Here, you can sample local honey, sweets, cheese, and ring-shaped pastries. Farmers also exhibit animals, fruits, and vegetables. Of course, the star of this festival is the traditional local products. Some of the favorites are rosquillas (a type of doughnut), chistorra (Basque-style cured sausage), talo (Basque food made of cornflour and water, which is like a traditional tortilla of Central America), and txakoli (Basque white wine). Enjoy some good music while you sample each of these specialties.
Shopping In Bilbao, Spain
There is no need to worry about what kind of souvenirs you will bring home to your loved ones. En Bilbao offers many shopping opportunities, for sure you will also buy for yourselves. Score the best deals at these shopping spots:
This main street in Bilbao is the place to go for your retail therapy needs. There are a lot of boutiques, department stores, and designer shops lined up on this avenue. This stylish and cosmopolitan district is 1.5 kilometers long. Rest assured, you will be able to find what you are looking for here.
Casco Viejo is an old, compact town wherein you can find charming streets and independent shops. It used to be a fortified part of Bilbao with walls serving as protection until the 19th century. Today, it attracts many visitors and is a must-see sight in Bilbao. The oldest shops in the city can be found along the narrow streets. Get souvenirs with local representations like weaved goods or wood carvings from the different souvenir shops. It is also the location of Mercado de la Ribera, the largest indoor market in Europe. Here you can buy art deco ornamentation, floral decorations, lattice windows, and other types of decorative elements.
In the heart of the Ensanche sits the attractive Plaza Moyúa. This large public square features English and French-style flower beds and a central fountain. It is also known for its traffic circle, with the main streets departing in a radius-like shape courtyard. This grand shopping area is bustling with high-end brand boutique stores primarily offering fashionable clothing. While at this marvelous plaza, you will also notice Carlton Hotel Bilbao, which is believed to be the favorite hotel of Einstein, Hemmingway, and other notable personalities.
Day Trips from Bilbao, Spain
Spain is a diverse landscape offering timeless beauty. While the Bilbao region already has a lot to offer, it makes the ideal starting point to unfold other charming places in the country. Join day trips from Bilbao and discover these captivating places nearby.
Located in the northeast Atlantic Ocean and south of the Celtic Sea is a gulf called the Bay of Biscay. Thanks to the massive industrialization during the last years of the 19th century up to the early years of the 20th century, Biscay became one of the most prosperous provinces in Spain. The top places to go to in Biscay are Bermeo and Guernica. Are you a Game of Thrones fan? Schedule Bilbao day trips to Bermeo to visit one of the show’s filming locations, the islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Meanwhile, in Guernica, you will find one of Pablo Picasso’s world-famous paintings. Book your Gaztelugatxe, Gernika, and Bermeo Tour now.
One of the Basque Country’s stunning resort towns is San Sebastian. It is not only known for the lovely, sandy beaches and mountainous surroundings. The city’s glamour can also be seen through the elegant art nouveau buildings, lavish parks, and many cultural events. Make your visit worthwhile by satisfying your palate from the plethora of Michelin-starred restaurants and eateries here. Book your San Sebastian and Gipuzkoa Coast Tour here.
Renowned for its local wine industry, La Rioja, a province in northern Spain, is worth a stopover. It has more than 500 wineries. These wines are enjoyed by the locals and by people from all over the world. Aside from wine tasting, get an adrenaline rush by trying out horse-riding, hot-air ballooning, and other activities. Without a doubt, you will get a glimpse of the Spanish culture by taking a trip to this remarkable agricultural region. Get your Vitoria and Rioja Day Tour ticket here. Another option is the Essential Rioja Private Wine Tour from Bilbao.
Places To Stay In Bilbao, Spain
There is so much to discover in the Bilbao centre you will need more than one day to be able to visit all the town’s hottest spots. Because of this, you must ensure booking a lovely Bilbao accommodation before proceeding with your trip. The hotels in Bilbao, Spain, come in several different price points. Surely, you will find one that suits your budget.
There are also several boutique hotel Bilbao choices in town. Along with private apartments (flats) and homes. Barcelo Bilbao hotel, for instance, offers modern accommodations. This hotel near the Guggenheim Spain Bilbao is ideal for both vacationers and business travelers. Alternately, if you wish to have more privacy, the 3-star Bilbao Apartamentos Atxuri may be an option, or the 4-star Santiago Apartments Bilbao.
Restaurants To Eat In Bilbao, Spain
Foodies rejoice in Bilbao as this northern Spain city has a fantastic culinary scene. Of course, the gastronomic crown jewel of Bilbao is pintxos. This traditional Basque cuisine, similar to tapas, is usually seen in bars and taverns, but most restaurants in Bilbao, Spain, offer them. Bilbao is also full of Michelin-starred restaurants that is why you can call this northern Spain city a foodie haven. The best restaurants in Bilbao, Spain include Zortziko, Bistró Guggenheim Bilbao, and Irrintzi. Restaurants in Bilbao vary significantly in price. No matter how much your budget is, it is a guarantee your appetite will bring you to your heart’s content. You can check out their reviews on Tripadvisor here.
Drinking and Nightlife Bilbao, Spain
The best way to end each day of your Bilbao trip is by experiencing the energetic northern Spain nightlife. Party starts from late afternoon up until the wee hours of the morning. Pubs, clubs, and bars are scattered all over town; you will never run out of options. As always, there is a place for every budget.
Head over to Casco Viejo, specifically around Plaza Nueva, for the best drinking spots. If you are somewhere in central Bilbao, go bar hopping in Calle Ledesma and Licenciado Poza. The district Indautxu has expensive nightclubs that offer a quieter environment than other bars. Young people usually flock to the bars and clubs at Mazarredo.
The Millennials typically enjoy a bottle or two of beer. But if you are new in town, you might as well go for customary local drinks like the txakoli, which is a very dry white wine, or the kalimotxo, a mix of cola and red wine. As usual, you will never run out of supply of pintxos from all these pubs in the Bilbao capital.
How To Get To Bilbao
Bilbao visitors arrive via air travel through Bilbao Spain Airport (BIO). It is located 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) away from the Biscay capital. Moreover, it is listed as the 12th busiest airport in Spain, welcoming over 5.9 million passengers in 2019 as per AENA statistics. Direct flights to Bilbao, Spain, come from Amsterdam, Lisbon, London, Frankfurt, and Paris. Flights are also available from Madrid, Barcelona, and other Spanish cities. Compare flight prices with CheapOair here.
Train to Bilbao
The biggest train station in Bilbao is the Abando Prieto. It is popularly known as the North station as it serves as the departure point for all long-distance Renfe trains. It is also considered Bilbao’s central transport hub, giving direct access to Metro Bilbao, Bilbao’s Tram, and local and regional bus lines. Travelers from Europe or North America can hop in trains with direct connections from Madrid-Barajas Airport and Barcelona El Prat to go to Bilbao. If coming from Paris, use SNCF services, drop off at the French border, then transfer to Renfe services to reach Bilbao. While in this train station, passengers are treated to the sight of large stained-glass windows portraying the history of the city. Buy your train tickets here.
Bus to Bilbao
Almost all buses in Bilbao arrive at Estacion de Autobuses (Bus Station). This station is near Santimami /San Mamés station, offering easy access to the city via underground, tram, and overground rail connections. Buses from major Spanish cities like Barcelona and Madrid and international cities like Marseille and Paris arrive in Bilbao every day. Alsa services most buses in the city. Other options include Eurolines, Iberobus, and Ouibus.
Unravel one of the greatest treasures of the Basque Country.
Explore the beauty of northern Spain by making Bilbao your location starting point. This industrial port city is outfitted with a combination of sensational natural landscapes and notable architectural works. Plus, it offers an esteemed dining experience and dynamic culture. Rest assured that your vacation in this northern Basque region will be unforgettable!
Where is Bilbao in Spain?
Bilbao is one of the main cities in what is known as the Greater Basque region. This region also includes Vitoria-Gasteiz, Santander and San Sebastian. Bilbao is situated in the north-central part of Spain, 16 kilometers (10 mi) south of the Bay of Biscay. It is approximately 120km (75mi) from the border of France, 400km (250 mi) from Madrid, 600km (375mi) from Barcelona.
Is there a train from Barcelona to Bilbao?
Is there a good hotel in Bilbao, Spain?
What is the time in Bilbao?
The time zone of Bilbao is GMT+1 (Greenwich Mean Time +1). It is also known to be CET (Central European Time) which is the same as GMT+1. So, if you see either, they both are the same and correct. This is the same time throughout mainland Spain and well as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, The Netherlands, and Denmark, to name a few.
Is it easy to rent a car in Bilbao?
Yes, the process of renting a car in Bilbao is straightforward. There are several international car rental companies in the city. Compare car rental prices availability here.
What is the weather forecast for Bilbao, Spain?
Bilbao has four seasons, and the weather can change dramatically from one to another. For the most recent and up-to-date weather, check Bilbao – BBC Weather or, if you prefer, the Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain Today, Tonight & Tomorrow’s Weather Forecast | AccuWeather.
Are there direct flights from London to Bilbao?
Yes, there are direct flights from London Gatwick Airport to Bilbao with Vueling Airlines.
Which are the best places to visit in Bilbao?
Here in this travel guide, we have recommended several places to visit in Bilbao and tours to take. Which is the best is personal preference and depends on what you like to do. We know that Bilbao has things that every visitor will enjoy. You can find a complete listing of all the things to do in Bilbao with Viator here.
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